A survey of nations with advanced economies indicates that the U.S. is the only such country that does not require employers to offer employees paid vacation time. It may seem like an insignificant nuance, but that lack of paid time off includes national and federal holidays.
In fact, a report published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger when legal holidays are included. U.S. law does not guarantee any paid holidays, but most rich countries provide between 6 and 13 per year, in addition to paid vacation days.
Attempt to mandate paid time off falls flat in Congress
In 2013, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson introduced a bill that would have changed that by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act to require companies with 100 employees or more to provide one week of paid annual leave to all full-time employees. The bill never made it out of subcommittee.
Indianapolis, Indiana, employment attorney Ashley Marks says that approval of vacation time is left up to each employer. However, “If working puts you over 40 hours for the work week, then overtime should be paid,” she says. That is, as long as you are not exempt from overtime laws.
Employers are generally not required to pay extra on holidays
John Dougherty, an employment and labor attorney in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, says employers “can compel you to work on a legal holiday and are not required to pay you overtime unless you have a written contract or belong to a union that has negotiated holidays.”
In the U.S., employee benefits are considered a mark of competition in the labor market. Some companies will offer vacation and holiday pay as a way to attract better employees or to improve employee morale. The Department of Labor sets guidelines for minimum wage, overtime pay, and other worker benefits. In general, while overtime pay is set to a minimum of 1 1/2 times the regular rate of pay for any hours worked over 40 during one week, not all workers are guaranteed overtime pay. There are some types of businesses and professions that are exempt from these requirements.
There is no legal mandate for holiday pay either; however, if working on a holiday causes a person to work more than 40 hours in one week, then the employer may be obligated to pay overtime, unless the employer is exempted by fair labor laws.
Employers must respect religious observances, if possible
When it comes to religious holidays, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is more applicable.
Samuel Cordes, an employment attorney in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, says employers are required to reasonably accommodate a sincerely held religious belief “unless doing so would cause an undue hardship to the business.” He adds, “You need to request this accommodation, then be ready to engage in a conversation with the employer about alternatives.”
Cathleen Scott is a labor lawyer in Jupiter, Florida, and she agrees. She also notes that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects any sincerely held religious belief, not just those adhered to by the major religions. These include theistic and non-theistic beliefs.
“Social, political or economic philosophies, as well as mere personal preferences, are not ‘religious’ beliefs protected by Title VII,” she cautions.
If you want time off just to spend with your family, your employer has no legal obligation to make that happen outside of contractual obligations and union benefits.
Employment contracts – not federal law – dictate pay and time off
When it comes to labor law, there are a lot of variables. There is no single application for all workers across the board. Your employment contract will spell out the details of your employer’s obligation regarding holidays, overtime, paid vacations and other benefits. If you have no contract, consult your employee handbook.
If you and your employer cannot reach an agreement regarding holiday work issues, your best bet may be to seek legal advice.
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